Up to 70 deaths have been reported at the Polices Central Detention centre in Valencia, in the northern Venezuelan capital of Carabobo state, according to government sources.
A fire reportedly broke out after prisoners began setting mattresses alight in an attempted prison break early on Wednesday morning, local news media reported.
Many reportedly died due to asphyxia and burns.
“In the preliminary inquiries, results show the death of 66 men and two women who were visitors [overnight],” Tarek William Saab, the chief prosecutor, said.
After the fire many families reportedly positioned themselves outside the police station.
As they gathered outside, the situation reportedly turned violent, becoming dispersed by police with tear gas as they looked to gain entry into the prison.
The government of Carabobo has designated four prosecutors to begin reviewing exactly what happened, three at a regional level and one at state level.
On Twitter Saab said, “the state prosecutor’s office guarantees to deepen investigations to immediately clarify what happened during these painful events which have left dozens of Venezuelan families in mourning.”
Latin American prisons are known to be under-financed and overcrowded. Riots and violence are commonplace.
Jesus Santander, secretary-general of Carabobo, confirmed that a police officer was shot following the fire.
Speaking on behalf of the local government, Santander also wished to “extend our solidarity to all of the families”, describing events as casting “a shadow over the state of Carabobo”.
Relatives of the inmates expressed concern over what happened.
“They have not told us anything, I ask that (the forces of law and order) to not treat them [the inmates] like dogs,” Lissette Mendoza, mother of 19-year-old inmate Yorman Salazar, told local news media.
“He is being held for robbery, but that is no reason for taking his life away as if he were a dog,” said 35-year-old Mendoza.
A press statement released by the Carabobo government said that a “multidisciplinary team” has been dispensed to support family members “with the funeral services and the burial of the deceased inmates”.